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Microsoft Word bug eats data

Microsoft confirms the existence of a data-munching bug in its popular Word word-processing software that can cause users to lose unsaved data.

Microsoft has confirmed the existence of a data-munching bug in its popular Word word-processing software that can cause users to lose all unsaved data.

The bug exists in Word 95 Version 6.0 and Word 97. The problem surfaces when a user drags a document file icon over to the printer icon, or by right clicking the file icon and choosing "Print."

Although the bug occurs while trying to print a Word Document, Microsoft said it is actually due to a series of internal Windows commands invoked when a user tries to print a document through the operating system's shell. Windows allows documents to be printed through Windows Explorer, the file manager included with Windows 95 and Windows 98, by dragging file icons and dropping them onto a printer icon.

The bug does not affect documents printed through the most obvious method of clicking the print button in Word, clicking on "Print" in Word's "File" menu, or by pressing the "Control" and "P" keys.

"That's why this is really an obscure bug," said Matthew Price, group product manager for Microsoft Office. "This is a little-known feature."

BugNet, an online software bug notification service, first reported the bug last week.

However, Price said Microsoft has known about it since March, when the first phone call came in from a disgruntled user. Since then, Price said the firm has received two to three calls in total. "I think that shows how weird the problem is."

He pointed out that Word 6 is the earliest version in which the bug occurs and that version 6 came out in 1993. "We received our first call in March of 1998. That's over 4 1/2 years."

Price explained that the problem is due to the way DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange) commands instruct Word to open the document, print it, and then close the document without saving changes.

After Microsoft tested and discovered the bug on March 20, it posted a workaround seven days later on its Web site.

However, as BugNet warns in its alert, using the workaround provided by Microsoft is not for the faint of heart, since it involves editing the Windows Registry, a database of system information crucial to the operating system.

Instead, Microsoft recommends that users save their work before they print by dragging the icons, or not printing files using the drag-and-drop method at all.